New York Jets Defense: Simple Questions, Simple Solutions

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The New York Jets defense has problems. They’re not dominant against the run and they just got torched against the pass. The upside? They have seven draft picks this year, and while most teams are scrambling in search of quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, the Jets are already in prime position to stack up key positions on their defense.

Safety

The first, and obviously weakest part of the Jets defense is their safety play. Sure Jim Leonhard is smart, instinctive and hard working. He’s also 5’8 and 188 lbs. Matching him up on a tight end is a joke and picturing him taking down the elite running backs in this league is hard to imagine. And who is the other strong safety to back him up? Emmanuel Cook. Like Leonhard, Cook is undrafted, and probably with good reason.

At free safety, the Jets have their jack of all trades in Eric Smith (3rd round pick), and Brodney Pool (2nd round pick/traded from Browns), who has missed crucial time in their schedule with injury. Eric Smith, as this year has shown, should not be a starting safety, as he seems to get beat all over the field in pass coverage. Brodney Pool should be the starter, but missing this much time is not good for a guy who struggled without Leonhard’s guidance last year.

There is an obvious answer to all of this. Draft a safety. Anyone notice the difference a guy like Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu makes? A safety can play against the run, against the pass, blitz, or drop into double coverage. As their cornerback position is secured for the near future, a free roaming safety could provide huge plays in the secondary.

Enter Mark “fear of god” Barron. I made up the nickname, and it is appropriate. Projected as a second round pick, Mark Barron (Alabama) (6’2 215lb) has enough experience in a complex scheme to make an immediate impact at the safety position. Given a full offseason to get acclimated to the Jets scheme, he could be the blitzer who can get to the quarterback and also stop NFL running backs dead in their tracks. If you want proof, just YouTube Mark Barron and look at him against Penn State, and if you are a sadist, look at him put a nice lovetap on Jordan Rogers from Vanderbilt. Barron has already put his stamp on the big hitting Alabama secondary, which is currently giving up 7.1 points per game. Again, 7.1 points per game.

Linebacker

At outside linebacker, the Jets are in flux. Aaron Maybin is slowly evolving into their edge rusher, Calvin Pace is up and down but getting old, and Bryan Thomas is on injured reserve and simultaneously getting old. Jamaal Westerman being a legit pass rusher is not a realistic goal, but a good sub package rotation and Garrett McIntyre is simply filling space on the roster.

At inside linebacker, David Harris is the stud, Bart Scott is the aging complement and the Josh Mauga/Nick Bellore combination is the fallback in case of injury.

Dare I look at another Alabama defensive player? I dare indeed. Courtney Upshaw. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, but he is ferocious, and probably stronger than most of the tight ends that are going to try and block him in the NFL. He’s a first round pick and will probably be gone by the time the Jets get their number called, but if the Jets don’t make the playoffs,(no one wants that) they can swoop in with relative ease and snatch him somewhere in the middle of the first. You want a pass rusher? Look up Capital One Bowl highlights from last year. Be patient as most of it is Alabama scoring touchdowns, but there are a few great blind side sacks. In a game where Alabama scored 49 points, Upshaw was the MVP. Look up this year’s highlights if you want something in high definition.

If you put his hand down he beats your tackle, if you stand him up he runs over your running back or comes straight up against your quarterback. He also happens to be coached by the best defensive mind in college football. A transition to the Jets shouldn’t be too difficult.
So let’s say he is taken before the Jets can grab him. Then you’ve got this guy Dont’a Hightower, who unlike Upshaw usually lines up inside and knocks opposing guards about six feet off their block. He’s about as heavy as Upshaw and two inches taller.

Defensive Line

The Jets defensive line, like their linebacking core, is in flux. At nose tackle, Kenrick Ellis will hopefully at some point get into football shape and get healthy enough to take over the starting spot by next year. Sione Pouha, a guy who was always intended to be the complement to Kris Jenkins, has held up surprisingly well as a starting nose tackle. Martin Tevaseu is simply taking up space and is only active in case of injury to guys at defensive end.

At defensive end, Muhammad Wilkerson is taking the place of Trevor Pryce. Mike Devito will start at the opposite end of Wilkerson next year, while Ropati Pitoitua is most likely going to substitute for both guys or drop in on nickel and dime packages

Will the Jets become bold and go with defensive line again? Hopefully they will, for the sheer fact that they currently have no Pro Bowlers on their defensive line, and they can’t generate pressure without giving something up over the middle or the short screen.

Postscript

Is getting two Alabama players as your top two draft picks realistic? No. Is getting one? Yes. Though I have nothing against small school defensive players, guys that play on the Alabama defense are operating on another level. They read, react, and rush with the ferocity that teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Jets have come to make their trademark. Some people watch college football for the beauty of touchdowns, I watch it for the beauty of the Alabama defense. And beautiful it is.

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